The micro and macro linkers

Inseparable, yet disconnected

The re-suspension of meaning

Social connectivity

Moist and malleable

Vibrant and indecipherable

Purged and solidified by unseen matter

Paintings of HeLa Cells

Photograph by: Andrew Pelling © 2013

Title: Outreach

Size: 48 x 72 inches

Medium: Mixed Media

Year: 2014

Title: The Loner

Size: 48x72 inches

Medium: Mixed Media

Year: 2014


                 Contagious Matters attempts to associate biological matter, specifically cancer cells, with the concept of contagion, by using my working methodology entitled Microethnography. This method that I am developing, in its relational co-existence with ethnography, navigates or explores the micro world by examining micro matters' social activities. This social proliferation of cancer amongst itself, other cells (i.e. fibroblasts) and its ecology, promotes an often unobserved form of social amalgamations that can be argued as a contagious event(s). The re-suspension of the concept contagion through the use of both the sciences and the social sciences via the hybrid methodology, will hopefully bring to light new forms of how to evaluate things beyond the scope of purely human existence. 

Painting based on an image by Nickolay Bukoreshtliev and housed at the University of Ottawa in the Pelling Lab.

        Contagious Matters is a multimedia installation which focuses in investigating the relationship between the micro and macro worlds of cancer culture.  The installation was completed by merging technology, science, arts and culture through the use of traditional artistic media/practice and scientific media/practice. The paintings shown above represent a fixed micro culture

Tristan Matheson

           First and foremost, I would like to thank Pelling Lab and Fluxmedia for all the support both financially and material wise, helping make my research project Contagious Matters possible. Specifically, I would like to thank Andrew Pelling and Tagny Duff for their support and guidance with my experimental process throughout my research. A huge thank you needs to go out to the Pelling crew who have been inspirational throughout my artist residency during the summer of 2013 and continue to inspire and support my research in the lab. Specifically, I would like to thank Daniel Modulevsky and Kristina Haase for the prep work with the SEM samples and Dr. Yun Liu for the access and photos taken on the SEM at the University of Ottawa. Other contributors include Mobile Media Lab at Concordia University for their support and Hexagram for the use of their technology. Thanks also go to WhiteFeather Hunter, Giuliana Cucinelli, Meaghan Shaw, Thomas Neulieb for their never ending support and friendship which has helped sustain my research throughout the years. Lastly, I would like to acknowledge the financial support of both the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada and HexagramCiam for backing my project Contagious Matters and for believing in my research-creation project. Without these contributions my research and unconventional/conventional artistic practices would not be possible.

I would like to dedicate this research to my family, friends and colleagues, who have been truly supportive throughout this journey. Without them I wouldn't have been able to have the strength to accomplish what has been accomplished. I would also like to thank my father, who has been the family’s anchor throughout the tough times and throughout this process. Most of all, this research is dedicated to my mother Dona Matheson and my sister-in-law Linda Kirchgessner, who both co-existed and finally succumbed to cancer in the year of 2014. It was their courage and brevity that encouraged me to discover, understand and accept cancer culture in all its forms.

 in time and space through scientific/digital practice and captures the essence of what a cancer cell(s) looks like in large scale. The 3D edited images sutured together and projected onto both painted substrates, acts as a live feed in order to witness the often unseen live culture. The 3D time lapse videos of live HeLa cells, cultured and recorded in a science lab by the artist, exemplifies the cell's communicative properties within its ecology over space and time. This visual use of my developing methodology, microethnography, attempts to re-suspend the concept of contagion via cancer's movement and rapid growth within its ecology and  allows viewers to think about the

concept of contagion as a social event and not merely as a physiological one. The finished installations also includes an audio recording of the artist's mother, whos battled cancer for 4 years before succumbing to the disease, and focuses on how the disease socially and physiologically impacted on her existence. This fusion of the seen and unseen, between the micro and the macro worlds, reverses itself in this 3D cellular interactive milieu, where the voice is a mere aural presence versus that of the seen micro matter.

interdisciplinary researcher/Bioartist


Photographed by: Guy L'Heaureux © 2015.

Images taken from Biomateria + Contagious Matters with WhiteFeather Hunter and Tristan Matheson as part of the Annual International MAH Conference at the FoFA Gallery, Montreal, QC